Great expectations. Eating expectancies as mediators of reinforcement sensitivity and eating

Julie M. Hennegan, Natalie J. Loxton, Ameerah Mattar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


"Positive reinforcement expectancies mediated reward sensitivity and external eating."Negative reinforcement expectancies mediated threat sensitivity and emotional eating."An implicit expectancy measure supported reward sensitivity and expectancies."Threat and conflict sensitivities were not associated with implicit expectancies. Eating expectancies are proposed as cognitive pathways linking reinforcement (reward and punishment) sensitivities and the tendency to over-eat in response to appetitive and emotional cues. In Study One (N=243 university women) explicit eating expectancies were tested as potential mediators of reinforcement sensitivities and eating styles. Broadly, expectancies that eating alleviates negative affect/boredom mediated both reward and punishment sensitivity and emotional eating. The expectancy that eating is pleasurable and rewarding mediated reward sensitivity and external eating. In Study Two (N=109), using an implicit eating expectancy task, reward sensitivity and external eating was mediated via positive expectancy statements, notably, that eating is pleasurable and rewarding. Reward sensitivity and emotional eating was mediated specifically by expectancies that eating manages boredom. Punishment sensitivity was not associated with any implicit expectancies. Findings support the role of expectancies as cognitive mediators in the relationship between reinforcement sensitivities and emotionally-driven versus externally-driven eating styles. However, the largely appetitive implicit expectancies task only supported an association with reward sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-88
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Dec 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Expectancies
  • External eating
  • Implicit expectancies
  • Mediation
  • Reinforcement sensitivity theory
  • Reward

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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